A new book published by the University of Hawaii Press appeared recently on bookshelves in Japan. Painstakingly written by Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey, it is titled “The Dog Shogun: The Personality and Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.”
This work, a solid volume of some 400 pages, is described as “exciting” and “insightful,” and its author “a senior scholar of the Tokugawa Period.”
Bodart-Bailey, born in Germany, was educated both there and in England. She was always concerned with the acquisition of language. Employed by Lufthansa, she was posted to the airline’s regional office in Hong Kong. “I asked them to send me to Japan,” she said. “I wanted to learn Japanese.”
In the late 1960s she came to Tokyo and studied Japanese linguistics part time at Sophia University. She said: “I used to wander around looking at Japanese teahouses and stone lanterns, and that made me resolve to study full time. I heard a lot of good things about Japanese studies in Australia.”
She was able to enter the Australian National University, where in three years she earned her B.A. in Asian studies. “Once I began, I got some credits for my M.A., then my Ph.D., at the Research School of Pacific Studies,” she said.
Bodart-Bailey married an Australian diplomat. With him she went to Bangkok, and to Ottawa. She had a daughter. “Combining being a mother and diplomat’s wife and scholar wasn’t easy,” she said. However, she had the motivation and energy to put it all together. She became visiting professor at the Ottawa University, establishing there the teaching of Japanese history.
On her return from Australia, from being a visiting research fellow of the Research School of Pacific Studies she became a postdoctoral fellow. “Then I managed to get sponsorship, and took up a Japan Foundation fellowship at Tokyo University,” she said.
While keeping her Australian connections, Bodart-Bailey moved around, to Kyoto, to Toronto, and back to Tokyo. Toward the end of the last century she was named professor in the faculty of economics at Kobe University, “the first female and first non-Japanese person actually appointed by the Ministry of Education,” she said. In 1991 she became professor of Japanese history at Otsuma Women’s University, where she was a founding member of the Department of Comparative Culture.
“Living here in Japan has made it possible for me to do the research for my books,” Bodart-Bailey said. Outstandingly articulate in her different languages and a prodigious translator, she is also prolific in her writing. Apart from more than 20 authoritative chapters in books and academic journals, she has several weighty books to her credit. Many of them are concerned with Englebert Kaempfer, physician in the 17th century to the Dutch East India Co.’s trading settlement at Nagasaki. To his observations on the Japanese scene Bodart-Bailey owes much of her own keen interest.
“The Dog Shogun” is said to be a “thoroughly revisionist work of Japanese political history that touches on many social, intellectual and economic developments as well.” The author’s re-examination of primary sources is regarded as “masterful.” Tsunayoshi, the fifth Tokugawa shogun, is often regarded as having been a tyrant whose policies were “eccentric, extreme and unorthodox.” His nickname derives from his Laws of Compassion, which made the mistreatment of dogs an offense punishable by death.
Bodart-Bailey counters several of the charges laid against Tsunayoshi. She accounts for him as a person influenced by his mother, who was the daughter of a greengrocer. Bodart-Bailey emphasizes the cultural growth and prosperity that took place under Tsunayoshi’s rule. She acclaims his leadership in guiding his people after Japan was struck, in quick succession, with a major earthquake, tsunami and violent eruption of Mount Fuji. “The Dog Shogun” is lauded as promising to become “a standard text on late 17th and early 18th century Japan.”
Professionally commanding, Bodart-Bailey keeps the human touch. Every year she goes to Germany to visit her daughter, who lives there. She maintains the warmth of old friendships. Every second year she takes a group of Otsuma students to Australia. Having forged her own way, from her own life she understands the value of knowing different cultures, and is keen to help others toward opportunities.